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Class Conversations: The Diablo 3 and Reaper of Souls Barbarian with ZappaFan

Posted 10 Mar 2014 by

Today brings the first of what I hope will be a regular feature; in-depth conversations with players who are experts and advocates for their favorite character class. This one stars ZappaFan, the long-time moderator of our Hardcore forum, leader of our IncHC2 clan, and a man who has played a lot more Barbarian than you have. Like a thousand hours more.

Still a mighty class.

Still a mighty class.

I started this conversation off during the Reaper of Souls beta when the “OMG they nerfed teh Barb!” complaints were coming fast and furious from former Spin2Winners who had turned into Spin2Whiners thanks to the nerfs balances Blizzard made to a few of that class’ abilities. It was obvious those changes, such as no more perma-Wrather of the Berserker, weren’t just some test on the PTR, but were coming long term.

Since ZappaFan was the most dedicated Barbarian player I knew, I wanted to hear what he thought about all the changes to the Barb, if he thought they were needed, how his gear and old D3v1 build was working in the new reality… and then we continued the conversation this weekend, after he’d had some testing time on in D3v2. Click through for the full exchange, which covers Barbarian gear, builds, Hardcore style, cheesiness (or not), passive changes, other class enjoyment, why he’s older than dirt, and much more. Here’s a quote:

Flux: How did you feel the Barb in the Reaper of Souls beta compared to the Barb in D3v?

ZappaFan: My barb definitely felt improved in RoS. I wouldn’t have even considered running dual-wield in D3V and I was happy doing that in RoS. …from what I’ve seen I don’t see the changes to Barbs being a big deal, something that people won’t adjust to once they really start playing the game. I think anybody that actually played the beta and is highly critical of the changes to barbs simply doesn’t want to change.

And to illustrate my point, I also had a lvl 70 Crusader. He had the same 191 account Paragon points at his disposal as my Barb did. I shared all the same equipment between my Barb & my Crusader, except of course my Crusader had a shield and a pretty nice 2H weapon. And even with the same gear… it wasn’t even close. My Barb was a much better killing machine than my Crusader, and definitely felt more hardy with better healing. Maybe I just really suck with Crusaders, but I tinkered with different builds quite a bit, looked at builds other people were using, etc.

Barbs still rock in RoS, no doubt about it imo.

Click through for the full interview / conversation / debate, and I’d like to conduct these with other knowledgeable fans to cover all the classes in the game. See the note at the very end if you’d like to participate in one.

Flux: Before we get into Diablo 3 version 2 and Reaper of Souls changes to the Barbarian, let’s do a little background and establish your credentials. You played a lot of Barbarian in Diablo 3. Was it all Hardcore? How much of your total play time was with a Barb? How many Barbs did you create and what was your highest level? What made this your favorite class?

ZappaFan: All my play in Diablo 3 has been Hardcore except the first character to 10 to enable HC. I played Barbs exclusively past the patch that introduced the Paragon system. I have seven dead Barbs that are 60 or below, #8 made it to P27. I finally played another class when that first Paragon Barb died. Tried a Demon Hunter, lots of fun, but clearly a death waiting to happen and stopped at the ripe age of Paragon 3.

Flux: I wish I’d learned that lesson. I just created ImmortinaVII, though at least now I know enough to get them to 60 and start to make them happy before they die.

ZappaFan: My next Barb, ZappaFanWTF, reached P100 (deeds that same week). Ran a Monk to P80 next. Then, on the day of the birth of my great-grandaughter Avani, I decided to make a new female Barb and name her Avani. Seemed like a cool idea except that she only made it to P50. So I made another Avani female barb and she reached P100 and is still kicking. After reaching P100 with Avani #2 I made a Witch Doctor and she’s currently sitting at P51 while I play the beta. To date, my play time on D3V is as follows: Barbs 2004 hrs, DH 65 hrs, Monk 195 hrs, WD 86 hrs, Wizard 61 hrs. I was shocked to see 61 Wizard hrs because that’s all from mules, I’ve not actually played a Wizard yet, ever. Some of my WD hrs are from a mule as well.

Barbs have always been my favorite going back to Diablo 2. I guess I like the visceral feeling of running around and smashing things, going Berserk. RAWR! I especially love the Male Barbarian in Diablo 3. The guy that does the voice for it, Dorian Harewood, nails it perfectly imo. I never get tired of hearing him scream, “How tastes your fear!”, etc. Seriously I love it. In fact when I switched to the female barb to honor my new grand-daughter I was disappointed in the female voice of Athena Karkanis as compared to the male. She sounds almost polite in her taunting.

Flux: Okay, wait. Multiple P100 Hardcore Barbs and Diablo 3 to the side… you have a great granddaughter? Like a real life living human female, three generations along? That’s the most impressive thing I’ve heard this year! How did that happen? Wait, don’t answer that. This isn’t about your real life, but that is inspirational. Obviously you’ve found a way to balance video gaming with family and real life and such.

OTDZappafan: Yeah, balance is important for sure – that’s actually a bit of a “life” soapbox for me, of which I will spare you. But mostly it just requires being old. I’m older than dirt, I have the t-shirt (photographic evidence attached).

Flux: Back to the Diablo stuff… your barbs were different than most I saw in Diablo 3 since you didn’t do the Spin2Win barb build, a build that most players felt was awesome, and also quite overpowered. It’s been nerfed in D3v2 and Reaper of Souls, which motivated a lot of complaints about the Barb’s class changes. We’ll get into your play time with the Barb in Reaper and now in D3v2 in a bit, but to establish the history… Did you ever try Spin2win back in the D3 days? Do you think it was OP and needed to be fixed?

ZappaFan: I never actually tried Spin2win, primarily because I’ve always liked actually picking stuff up when I’m playing. I really don’t care for the “mad dash sprint” play style that a lot of people seem to like. During almost all my play time on Diablo 3, I’ve picked up nearly all the yellows, and absolutely all gems, tomes, DE’s, etc. I think with my WD (my most recent char), I finally started being fairly selective about which yellows I picked up.

Flux: That’s amazing, but it seems like a window into your character. And your characters (toons). Not to psychoanalyze, but the rush rush rush play style doesn’t appeal to you since you’re very patient and meticulous, as demonstrated by you picking up all the rares and materials, etc. Now if you’re a coder, or you say… repair watches in real life, all the dots will connect.

ZappaFan: Mostly I think I’m just anal, but I am an engineer, so yeah, there’s some connecting dots there I think.

Flux: I agree with you on not liking to constantly rush around in-game, though I do like to go fast between groups of enemies to maximize my play time, and sometimes I’ll get into a mood or a char build — such as the Monk’s Tempest Rush before D3v2 nerfed the class to uselessness — to go very quickly with a farming priority on EXP, rather than worrying about gold and items.

That said, I do generally enjoy collecting all (or at least most) of the gems and tomes and such, but still… all of the rares? All of them? That’s not insane now in D3v2 when you need materials and rares can roll pretty well, but back in D3v1, rares were terrible! 99.9% were just straight vendor trash, with only the occasional glove, one-handed weapon, or jewelry worth selling on the AH.

Or do you disagree, and are you prepared to offer anecdotal evidence of some miracle roll on yellow boots or shoulders that earned you riches?

ZappaFan: Honestly the main reason for picking up all the rares for me is simply the curiosity to see what the roll is, even though I know it’s probably going to be crap, I can’t help but want to see it. Also, any item that has a chance to roll Reduced Requirement has a chance to be something very useful, especially in regards to Hardcore play where starting over is so prominent. You’ve blogged before about how dangerous the progression from 50 to 60 can be, but if your character is loaded up with lower requirements gear it makes it a LOT quicker and easier.

Flux: As we saw in the Reaper of Souls beta and now in D3v2, the devs don’t want to support the rush-rush-rush builds anymore. We’re talking about the Barb here, but the Wizard’s perma-Archon build was also killed, and the Monk’s Tempest Rush is much slower. Plus the general gameplay is more about longer battles, and there are lots of good crafting recipes now which require BoA materials, and some enchanting and crafting cost gems, which have to be picked up since they’re BoA in Reaper.

So… how did you secretly convince the Diablo III devs to change the entire game to support your meticulous play style?

Actual real life photo of Zappafan.

Actual real life photo of Zappafan.

ZappaFan: HA!! That’s funny because I had a hard time trying to train my brain to leave yellows on the ground playing my WD. Then I started playing the beta and it was right back to picking everything up again. All is right in the world once again. And it’s actually even beyond that, because now with legendary crafting materials popping from chests, bookcases, bodies, Cain’s satchels, etc., it’s become “no stone unturned”. I pop everything! It’s awesome! :)

Flux: Getting back to the Spin2Win barb stuff… why didn’t you try it? You surely saw and heard about how powerful the build was. Just to explain for readers who might not know, the power of the build at the highest level relied on remaining in the Wrath of the Berserker form indefinitely, which was possible if you kept gaining massive amounts of Fury. The only way to gain the Fury required was to get lots of procs while hitting enemies, which meant that a WotB/Spin2Win barb had to act like the proverbial shark and stay perpetually in motion to avoid drowning and death. Thus any delay or downtime out of combat, such as picking up gear, was verboten.

I guess you were having success doing your own Barb style, and you didn’t want to become what the Spin2Win rush rush would turn you into? Like Batman when he was prepared to turn himself in once he realized that he’d have to become a murderer to compete with the Joker’s insanity, and he wasn’t willing to stoop to that level?

ZappaFan: Any build I’ve tried playing Diablo 3 has had survival as the most important aspect. For a Barb I want to be tanky. I’ve never been interested in killing fast at the expense of safety. My main goal from the moment they introduced Ubers was to have a Barb that could run high MP relatively safely and comfortably. My first P100 barb actually achieved that but died due to first game load lag. That same week I ordered an SSD to run Diablo 3 from.
I’ve always had Wrath of the Berserker on my Barbs, but it’s mostly for emergency use. I don’t like running around with it on CD if I can help it too much. I’ll use it sometimes for high HP targets in order to speed things up a bit but that’s usually in a fairly controlled situation where I’m pretty sure of my surroundings, and fairly sure that said target will not be a threat when my WotB runs out. :-)

And as far as the whole “cheesy” aspect of it, yeah, the build does seem a little bit cheesy to me in the overall scheme of the game. But I don’t begrudge anybody for taking advantage of a game design flaw that can produce a super powerful killing machine. But clearly the “infinite WotB” build is a product of a design flaw in the game. Far cheesier to me is all the whining in the forums that the Barb is neutered with the changes they’ve made to fix that flaw in the game. For a game to have longevity, it needs to be balanced. When there is one build that is so much more powerful than virtually any other build, it’s not balanced. That sort of situation should be fixed. Yeah it kind of sucks if that’s your favorite, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Either adjust or move on. But please, stop the whining.

Flux: I’m more prepared to condemn the cheesiness of it than you, since I’m like that. But I agree that players can’t be blamed for exploiting the exploits for greater profit. I tried some Spin2Win but didn’t like the rushing play style, and I didn’t like the way it felt to play, and I especially thought it was wrong for the Barb. Just in theory, I could have supported a Demon Hunter or teleporting Wizard build that worked in that fashion; super fast movement, big damage via spell-type attacks, but with a very high risk of death.

There were so many colors of cheese.

There were so many colors of cheese.

The real problem with the Spin2Win in my opinion was that it was the Barb doing it, who was easily the most robust character in the entire game. With high Vit and Str he had giant damage mitigation, huge life leech for instant healing, he had the best passives in the game, he had the fastest movement speed with Sprint, he was immune to all CC effects with perma-WotB, etc. To me the cheesiness wasn’t just that Spin2Win was so powerful in DPS output, it was that the Barb was practically immortal while doing it. And it just felt wrong since the bulk of the damage wasn’t from his attacks, it was from whirlwinds left behind, killing things 2 or 3 screens behind him.

All that said… you played thousands of hours of Barb and built multiple P100s in Hardcore, so how did you do it? What was your build and play style?

ZappaFan: My current D3V Barb build:

I’ve been playing the same basic build in D3V for quite a while: Frenzy (Maniac), Rend (Blood Lust), WotB (Insanity), Leap (Death from Above), Warcry (Impunity) & Revenge (Provocation). Leap is a great escape skill but I also use it offensively for the 3 second stun quite a bit. Healing in HC is vital and is reflected in my build. I have multiple healing sources, with Rend (life steal), Warcry (2K HP/sec regen), Revenge, and also over 1K LoH (>2 att/sec) from BK ammy & pants. In her current gear setup for high MP play, she has 104K HP, 235K paper DPS, 280K dps with five stacks Frenzy, 670K dps with WotB active and five stacks Frenzy.


All my builds in D3V were sword & board. I tried dual-wielding early on in the release, and the first time I ventured into Fields of Misery I nearly died to the first pack and decided maybe a shield was a good idea. And once my first Paragon barb found the Hallowed plan I’ve always had a very nice shield in the stable to use. My D3V passives were Inspiring Presence, Weapons Master & Ruthless.

I’ve pretty much never had Life Steal on my weapon. Very early on I heard how LS was nerfed in Inferno and sort of dismissed it as important. By the time I learned just how important it really was, it had become a mitigating factor in the cost of a weapon. There were too many other ways to gain healing imo, and it wasn’t worth the cost to have it on a weapon – both from the aspect of buying a weapon on the AH or by keeping and using a self-found weapon that I could otherwise sell on the AH for big bucks.

Flux: Were you able to import your D3 Barb build into RoS? Did it work or were any of the skills nerfed or changed in function? And did you experiment much with new builds given all the changes to skills and gear in RoS? Do you feel the class is improved, in fun or style or variety, in RoS?

ZappaFan: Yeah, I pretty much ported my Barb directly over to RoS, and once I geared up she was running Torment 2 pretty easily. One big change I made was to go dual-wielding instead of using a shield. It had been sooo long since I’d even tried that in D3V, I’m honestly not sure if it was the changes in RoS that precipitated that or if I maybe could have been doing it all along and doing OK. During the beta I didn’t feel like playing D3V to investigate. :-)

The only change I made to my six skills was changing the rune for Revenge. Ros enabled Revenge to stack, which was really cool and I liked that change a lot. But it also changed the Provocation rune so instead of increasing the chance to proc, it increased the number of max stacks from 2 to 3. Well, I’m a Revenge spammer, and it rarely even has the chance to gain three stacks so that rune was pretty worthless to me. So I switched to Bloodlaw rune, which increased the life steal from 2% to 4% max HP.

Zappafan and Avani pose at the mall.

Zappafan and Avani pose at the mall.

I also changed my passives. I continued using Inspiring Presence & Weapons Master, but I switched to Animosity & Bloodlust for increased Fury/Fury Generation and Healing from Fury spent, respectively. I’m glad we got four passives at level 70 because that allowed me to use the Animosity/Bloodlust combo.

Towards the end of the beta my hardcore Barbarian Avani was running with 733K HP, 819K paper dps, 916K dps with five Frenzy stacks, and 1.6M dps with WotB active + five Frenzy stacks. I fiddled around with the different skills and pretty much tried everything but I came back to my same build. Familiarity and comfort probably have a lot to do with that. But I think it works.

Perhaps one caveat was that during the entire beta I continued using my legacy Echoing Fury that I ported over from D2V on my off-hand. I enchanted the min/max and bumped the dps up to almost 2.2K, and with 60% crit dmg & +.25 att/sec I’ve not been able to find anything better. Considering that, I wasn’t surprised when they changed enchanting to eliminate legacy items. :-)

Flux: How did your Beta barb feel compared to her Diablo III vanilla version? In killing power and survivability?

In the Beta I was running Torment 2 pretty comfortably, but again, I play fairly cautiously. I can’t just tank a lot of stuff like I could in D3V. You’ve got to be a little more tactical. Movement & positioning is more important, especially dealing with Lightning enchanted monsters. I didn’t miss the lack of life steal at all; my barb was healing just fine. Paragon account points helped in that regard. I had 191 to spend in the new system, and I was able to add considerable Life on Hit and life refen through that. I’m sure that’s been part of the reason I was able to start clearing Torment 2 so quickly.

They did nerf Torment a little bit with the last patch, but I was running Torment 1 before that, and had gotten to that point fairly quickly. In fact I’ve actually done that twice. I started playing at the onset of the closed beta, and lost Avani to Torment 1 Belial (a very foolish move at the time). So I imported my account and started fresh back at lvl 60 with D3v gear, and got right back to Torment 1 running again before the most recent patch.

Flux: Getting to the initial or main issue we started this to address… how did you feel the Barb in RoS compared to the Barb in D3v? Obviously you weren’t doing the Spin2Win build which was inarguable nerfed, but can you make any generalizations?

ZappaFan: My barb definitely felt improved in RoS. I wouldn’t have even considered running dual-wield in D3V and I was happy doing that now in RoS. And honestly I’m probably not qualified to give an opinion on the spin2win build since I’ve never really played it. But from what I’ve seen I don’t see the changes to Barbs being a big deal, something that people won’t adjust to once they really start playing the game. I think anybody that is actually playing the beta and is highly critical of the changes to barbs simply doesn’t want to change.

And to illustrate my point, I also had a lvl 70 Crusader. Hd has the same 191 account Paragon points at his disposal as my Barb did. I shared all the same equipment between my Barb & my Crusader, except of course my Crusader had a shield and a pretty nice 2H weapon. It’s really not even close which one is more powerful. My Barb is a much better killing machine than my Crusader, and definitely feels more hardy, has better healing. Maybe I just really suck with Crusaders, but I’ve tinkered around with different builds quite a bit, looking at builds other people are trying, etc.

Barbs still rock in RoS, no doubt about it imo.

Flux: Now that the Reaper of Souls beta is over and Diablo 3 version 2 has been running for a week, how does it feel going back to the future? Most of the skill changes that debuted in RoS and on the PTR proc and dominate as they once did. (So is it now Spin2Lose, or managing a Spin2Draw?) Back in D3v2, does your Barb build remain much as it was in the beta, and is it working fine? Anything change between the end of the beta and D3v2 going live, other than gear?

ZappaFan: Other than not having that 4th passive, obviously, my setup is the same as I was using in the beta. So far I am still using a shield. I’ve not found a 1H weapon good enough to drop my Hallowed shield (and probably won’t until RoS hits and we can progress to level 70). And Blacksmith crafts are really looking good. I have upgraded my bracers, shoulders and the Hallowed shield in the first week already. I’d long ago given up trying to upgrade those before the 2.0 update, after literally hundreds of attempts.

Flux: I wasn’t doing Spin2Win with my barb pre-RoS, so that change didn’t affect me. What I noticed most changed were some of the Barb’s previously super OP passives. Gone was the free life steal from Bloodlust and the free crit chance/damage from Ruthless. This caused me to redo my Barb’s passives, and slightly reduced the envy coming from my Monk, compared to D3v where the Barb had literally 6 or 7 passives that were better for DPS than *any* of the Monk’s passive. (The Monk’s passives still suck, but at least he’s not so far behind the Barb on the curve, and both would kill for any of the best +DPS passives the other classes have.)

You didn’t have to redo your Barb’s passives much, but did you notice the changes there and think they were fair?

ZappaFan: Yeah, I’ve looked at the changes quite a bit while I was playing the beta, there wasn’t anything that struck me as “unfair”. The whole “spin2win” infinite wrath thing was never intended to be that way in the first place, so the fact that they fixed that never seemed like an issue of fair or not to begin with. I really think they did a good job of making things a lot more balanced. I think we’ll see a lot more variation in builds now with RoS – for all classes – than we had with vanilla. Seems to me that’s a good thing.

Flux: In my opinion, the biggest change in RoS and now in D3v2, especially for Hardcore characters, is the overall game combat engine changes. The way one-shot enemies have been turned down, that life leech has been removed, that battles are designed to go a bit longer, to put more emphasis on CC and debuff tactics, etc. And the changes to gear in Loot 2.0 make it much easier to raise a character’s Toughness, with much higher rolls to Vitality on gear. On the whole that seems to have made Hardcore a lot more balanced. (Easier, some might say.) I certainly feel like Demon Hunters and other glass cannon builds are much less squishy than they were in D3v.

Do you agree, have you tried new stuff with a Wiz or Demon Hunter? And does that change seem to extend through to tanky builds? Obviously your Barb in D3v was very tanky, and the game has changed to make everyone more tanky. So is your barb now uber-tanky and indestructible? Or did the changes not really trickle all the way up to the top end tank? Or have you modified your build/gear to play in what would have been a bit faster/more risky style in D3v, but that feels safe enough in D3v2?

ZappaFan: There is no such thing as indestructible. ;)

Having said that, I will say that since 2.0 hit, it’s been a bit difficult upgrading my barb. She’s already pretty tanky, so I tend to focus on upgrades in DPS rather than toughness. I’ve “turned down” some upgrades that would have given me a fairly significant toughness upgrade at the expense of DPS. But you’re spot on regarding toughness upgrades, and that definitely extends to barbs as well.

Flux: How about gear? We didn’t get into detail about that in the Reaper of Souls portion, but obviously you had to upgrade your equipment. What changed, other than more vitality? Did you get into any build-changing equipment that really opened up new play options, or were you hunting any specific items that would have done so?

I really love the “special” attributes that some of the new legendary items have, and they can really make a huge difference in how you play your character. Specifically my beta barb used Illusory Boots that let you move unhindered through enemies. That was HUGE for getting bounties completed quickly and also especially for avoiding frozen procs. I also had a legendary belt, Harrington Waistguard, that increased damage by 109% whenever you popped a chest – or armor/weapon rack, or bookcase, body, or just about anything that yielded gold. That was pretty huge.

Flux: In closing, how do you feel about the Barb now in D3v2? Is it still your favorite class or have the overall game changes made you more curious about other play options? And what’s your plan for Reaper of Souls? Taking Avani over and kicking ass, or are you more interested in delving into the Crusader or some other class?

ZappaFan: Barbs are, and will probably always be my favorite class. But I would also say that the recent changes have made me more curious about the other classes. I think that the changes in D3v2 & RoS make it more attractive to play multiple characters and not just concentrate on your “main”. I will definitely be making a Crusader fairly soon after RoS is released. Alas, I will not be kicking any ass with Avani, however, she perished just today.

Remember your “stupid deaths” blog? Well chalk up another one of those for me in that category. No toon is indestructible enough to survive human stupidity. Stupidity >> Tankiness. I have to admit tho, it definitely takes a bit of the sting out not losing the Paragon progression that she had gained. And also knowing that eventually all of her gear would be replaced in RoS anyway, all I’ve really “lost” is the time it takes to progress back to 60. And I’ve already managed to collect some pretty good lower requirements gear for the trip back to 60 with her as of yet unnamed replacement. No more Avani’s tho, making a male barb this time. ;)

Flux: Thanks for your time and thoughts, and I hope the readers found it interesting and informative. Final thoughts for people who play Barbs, or who ought to be doing so?

ZappaFan: Far be it for me to tell anybody what they “ought” to be doing playing a game and having fun. People “ought” to eat their vegetables. But playing a game? Do what’s fun… unless it means exploiting a fundamental design flaw in a computer game, in which case do that until the game devs fix it.


Thanks to ZappaFan for his input and inspiration, and I’ll get him playing a Demon Hunter sooner or later.

If you’re an expert and advocate for one of the other classes in the game and you’d like to take part in a conversation like this one, let me know at flux@incgamers.com. I’d like conduct similar interviews/conversations for for all the classes during this D3v2 period of transition, and your insight and expertise into your class of choice could be very useful to others.